Category Archives: Look About

Cliff Claven Gets It Wrong On The American Workforce

A common lament these days is that America “doesn’t build anything anymore”. John Ratzenberger takes that thought and expands upon it at Big Hollywood, suggesting that not only do we not build anything, we have nobody to do the building. Unfortunately for John, he’s made enough logical errors, irrelevant points, and misdiagnoses of the problem that he’s due for a fisking.

When America gave up its position as the producer-in-chief and became the consumer-in-chief, “essential skilled workers” became dirty words in our lexicon.

Gave up our position? Manufacturing output isn’t declining. As Don Boudreaux points out, it’s 80% higher than 1979 and 351% higher than 1955. Manufacturing employment might be declining, but value produced is rising. This, of course, reflects the fact that true wealth gains come not from output growth, but from productivity growth. America is much more productive relative to its labor needs than it has ever been.

The cultural shift is fast producing an “industrial tsunami” that threatens our economy and way of life. Ironically enough, we’re facing a crisis shortage of skilled workers at a time of dramatically high unemployment.

This may be true. A shortage of skilled workers is undoubtedly a bad thing. However, the free market is notoriously effective at solving shortages. Shortages are reflected by high compensation, and high compensation draws greater supply. If we have a persistent shortage, however, one would have to look at structural impediments to supply.

We must re-connect this disconnect or face the consequences.

Here is where he starts to both assign blame (which is correct) and attempt to generate a solution (which is incorrect) by using the ever-present “we”. It becomes apparent shortly that he is not willing to let the free market solve this problem, he prefers top-down command and control. What he fails to recognize is that top-down command and control got us into this mess in the first place, and thus cannot be trusted long-term to get us out of it.

America works when Americans are working.

Okay, so here’s a mindless platitude. What happened, need to build word count?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 percent of the working population will reach retirement age by 2012, resulting in a potential shortage of nearly 10 million skilled workers. This heightens the price our nation is paying for dismantling so many in-school vocational training programs during the past few decades.

Aha! Dismantling in-school vocational programs. Sounds like we already tried putting the government in charge of supplying the training needed for our workforce, and they followed the current president’s adage that “college is for EVERYONE” rather than understand that different people better fit different work tracks and goals.

The cultural shift he might be speaking about earlier is the shift between those who do physical work with their hands out in the world, and those who do intellectual work with their brains in air-conditioned offices. Those in the latter group often (mistakenly) assume that there’s no brain necessary for those in the former group, while those in the former group often (mistakenly) think those in the latter are mere parasites and produce no “real” wealth. The problem is that we’ve put the air-conditioned-office type in charge of our government, and thus they’ve been trying to keep students from the horrors of tradesmen work for a few decades now.

Is there any wonder that, after decades of denigrating the skilled trades, and dismantling one of the routes into those trades (public school vocational training), it’s getting hard to fill the positions today?

The current shortage already sharply reduces the growth of U.S. gross domestic product, contributing to our overall economic problem. America’s infrastructure is falling apart before our eyes. Municipal water and sewer systems are failing, and more bridges are unsafe to cross. Yet the nationwide shortfall of more than 500,000 welders is causing already-funded repair projects to be canceled or delayed.

Why is infrastructure falling apart before our eyes? Because government has spent decades using transportation funding bills on pork and new infrastructure. Every politician loves to create a new “Robert Byrd Memorial Bridge”, but none of them want to spend the money to perform upkeep on the “Spiro Agnew Drainage Canal”. We’ve neglected infrastructure for too long, and now that we’ve decided to fund some necessary projects, we’re limited by the lag time of new labor supply.

However, there’s a short-term solution! Labor is mobile, and if we REALLY need welders, I’m sure there are at least a few hundred thousand scattered amongst the world’s population of 6 billion that are both qualified and willing to come here and take those jobs. While I think it would be nice to give those jobs to Americans, it’s just not going to happen in the short term. But who stands in the way of allowing skilled immigrants to come here and do work that desperately needs to be done? If you answered government, John, you’re learning!

Essential skilled workers are heroes. Without them, America grinds to a halt. But there are national security implications to this skilled worker gap, too. The ongoing demand for U.S.-manufactured military parts and hardware — from boots to mother boards — require domestic manufacturing operations. Even now, critical manufacturing has been moved off-shore as a stop-gap measure.

We simply can’t “outsource” our national defense!

Oh, lord, did he really just go there? Red flag, folks, when someone’s position is so weak that they must run straight to the “you need to do what I say for NATIONAL SECURITY!”, you know he’s in trouble.

Critical manjufacturing (at least of motherboards) hasn’t been moved offshore as a “stop-gap” measure. It’s been moved offshore as part of the military’s wide push to COTS procurement methods. Everything for the military used to be one-off custom products. They were expensive, because from design to manufacturing, there were no economies of scale to take advantage of. Typically, in the military, the volumes just aren’t there. Vendors of sub-assembly components often aren’t salivating at the thought of getting an order to design and supply custom motherboards for, say, 200 aircraft over 5 years. It’s just not worth it unless the price is astronomical. Thus, for some products, there are already multiple independent vendors producing the needed product in much higher volume for commercial applications, and they can be used in military applications at much lower cost. Standard practice is to have multiple independent sources for every component for which it is physically possible, to lessen the risk of supply chain shocks if — for example — a factory gets bombed.

Perhaps Ratzenberger wants to make the argument that America should go back to one-off custom products for military use, at much higher cost to everyone involved (especially the taxpayer). If he’s making that argument on the grounds that it will put more people to work, he’s right. (So will paying them to dig and fill holes). But if he’s trying to make that argument on economic grounds that it will increase America’s wealth, he’s economically illiterate.

Along with Emmy Award-winning producer Craig Haffner and the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, I am currently in pre-production with a new documentary, “Industrial Tsunami,” whose purpose is to wake up Americans to the shortage of skilled workers that threatens the existence of companies and entire industries.

I won’t disagree that we may be short on skilled workers. Alerting America to this fact is not a bad idea. I suspect, though, that his prescriptions for a fix will be quite different than mine.

We must develop short- and long-range solutions to this crisis, starting with expanding vocational training opportunities and restoring dignity and pride in America’s skilled workers.

Short-term: Liberalize immigration. We’ve got jobs today, and foreigners today have skills. What’s the problem?

Long-term: Privatize education (whether liberally voucher-based or full privatization). All done. Problem solved!

Okay, need more explanation? First, start with the fact that public education has made a high school diploma nothing more than a certification of breathing and a pulse. We’ve forced a college education to be the “starting point” of life by making it, at the very least, a certification of mild sentience, which is what a high school diploma used to be. Thus, employers have started demanding college degrees for jobs which don’t come close to requiring that someone finished a 4-year major in “Communications”. Break the “college is for EVERYONE” mindset by actually making high school valuable again, which will likely only occur through competition and privatization.

Second, once education is privatized, you cease to let government bureaucrats, who need a Master’s Degree to wipe their butts, to decide what’s important for success in the world. You’ll actually start to see private schools return to offering vocational training, because if there’s truly a market demand for skilled tradesman, they’d be stupid not to offer those programs. Yes, I am making the claim that the reason for the lack of these programs today is stupidity, but given that we put the government in charge of the decision, that should surprise no one.

Once you break the government impediment to seeing the skilled trades as honorable work (furthered by their destruction of a high school diploma’s worth and their active effort to steer EVERY child to a 4-year college degree), the “dignity and pride” of the skilled trades will follow.

We will explore the negative media images of skilled workers, as well as current initiatives at the national and local levels to address this crisis.

Is “getting the hell out of the way” an initiative at any level? No? Didn’t think so.

Equally important, we will promote the concept that essential skilled work is noble, is useful and creates the independent mindset and self-confidence in the individual that has resonated throughout our nation’s history — and can rebuild America with a solid foundation once again.

In this, I can only hope you’re successful. Since you’re opposed by pretty much everyone from the President (a walking college degree who’s never generated value either with his hands or his intellect) to academia (including the vast masses of teachers who went to college to earn an “education” degree rather than become experts in a subject matter and then add some teaching skills) to most of our media (themselves rationalizing wasting 4 years on J-school when they’re being outflanked by pajama-clad bloggers), I’m a bit worried that your methods aren’t going to work out as well as you hope.

Democracy Is A Referendum On The Economy — This Is A Defense Of Democracy?

While I regularly disagree with Ezra Klein, I believe that honestly one of the main differences between him and many libertarians is that he still has faith in the political system. He’s smart, he understands incentives, he just refuses to take the next step and start understanding public choice theory and the malincentives rampant in the political sphere (or thinks they can be fixed).

Today, though, he went off the rails. Here is his defense of the political system, regarding political science’s understanding of it:

First, campaigns don’t matter as much as we think. I take that as a good thing: Democracy shouldn’t be overly reliant on whose political consultants are better at spinning the truth into advertisements and attack mailers.

Okay, here I partially agree with Ezra. Advertising is a distinct activity independent of the quality of what is being advertised. If Ezra’s argument was that voters are able to see through the spin and BS to understand the actual qualities of the candidate, I would consider that a great thing. Sadly, Ezra’s next three paragraphs explain that the advertising is not insignificant because voters see through it, but rather because they don’t make decisions on candidates or policy anyway.

Second, “elections writ large depend more on performance than on policy — that is, they depend more on how things are going (for which the incumbent party is on the hook) than on specific policies, bills, legislation, etc.” That’s a bit unfair to incumbents, who aren’t totally responsible for conditions, but it’s nevertheless a fairly decent way for voters to make decisions.

So you’re saying that voters don’t make decisions based upon candidates or policy, they make decisions on conditions like the economy and national conditions. When things are good, they keep the incumbent, and when things are bad, they throw the bums out. How can you possibly square this with the belief that any election is a mandate for policy? I.e. if voters threw the Republicans out of office due to the war and the economy in 2008, can you claim that the voters actually wanted the Democrats to enact healthcare reform?

The argument that Ezra is making is that voters are simple and driven by macro events, while Washington is driven by micro activity (bills, policies, etc). And the argument that voters are making decisions based upon overly-simplistic reasons is used as a defense of democracy?

Third is that voters don’t approach elections with strong views on policy issues. Instead, they look to the political leaders they already trust to tell them what their views should be. If President Romney had proposed ObamaCare before a mostly Republican Congress, it would’ve gotten an easy majority of Republicans — both in Congress and in the country — and almost zero Democrats. Party affiliation drives policy opinions, and not the other way around.

Okay, so the argument here is that Americans voters trust “the guy I’d like to have a beer with”, rather than actually knowing or caring about his policies. And that American voters are tribal and protect “their own”, whether it’s R or D. Further, rather than voting for what they believe, they wait for those in power to tell them what to believe, and vote accordingly.

And again, this is a defense of the system? If voters make their decisions based purely on trust and tribe, why in the world should their decision empower our leaders to do anything?

The political science take on elections is sometimes accused of being nihilistic, as if doubting the importance of campaigns is like quoting Nietzsche and dressing in black. In fact, it’s fairly optimistic: Elections are driven by the real state of the country, not the money candidates spend to advertise to voters. You could say that it would be better if people made their judgments based on the policy Congress was passing to change conditions rather than the conditions themselves, but when you really look into how people decide which policies they support, it’s actually not clear that a more policy-centric process would be an improvement. Conditions are what voters know best, and so it’s good that they rely on them.

Ahh, I see. So the argument isn’t that voters should make decisions based upon policy, because the argument is that voters are too stupid and easily-led to have any reasonable understanding of policy. Thus, they vote purely as a referendum on who’s in power, not whether replacing the group in power will result in better or worse policy.

Ezra clearly explains why democracy doesn’t work, while trying to defend democracy. When Ezra finally realizes this, he might just make a political switch.

The Whys And Wherefores Of Armed Rebellion And Beer

Over at Popehat, Ken has posted a very thought-provoking question about the American Right’s rhetoric lately regarding armed rebellion. He delves into two topics, first exactly what the reasoning, scope, and result of revolution might be, and secondly into why the rhetoric tends to follow very similar paths to rhetoric of the socialist revolutionaries of the last century. It’s worth reading for the post, and there’s been a pretty good discussion in the comments section as well.

TJIC responds with a very long post of his own, laying out not only a justification for what conditions make rebellion morally acceptable, but also a bit of a “how-to” guide to destroy the state without obscene collateral damage. Again, very interesting.

In particular, though, I personally (for several obvious reasons) was struck by this visual question/response in TJIC’s post:

Ken: [After revolution] When do we get free elections again?

TJIC: Why would we want elections when we can have freedom?

In a mere two pictures, this illustrates my beliefs on democracy, anarcho-capitalism, and [of course] beer.

Democracy is a choice of rule, of whether you will have Left or Right, Republican or Democrat, Bud or Miller. It is both limited and binding. If the populace chooses Miller, the shelves are stocked with Miller Lite. Or more accurately, in our current system the shelves are stocked with ONLY Budweiser and Miller, in proportion to the vote count. At the top (President), perhaps the decision is that only one of them is then allowed to advertise on the networks [to strain the analogy well beyond its breaking point]. This situation is great for Budweiser, and great for Miller, regardless of where they fit along the spectrum of 60/40 split or 40/60 split of market share. The situation isn’t so good for the folks who don’t like either — but this is a democracy and they’re stuck with it.

In such a situation, would you say that the people who don’t like Bud or Miller are fully enfranchised? After all, they have every right to vote alongside the B party and the M party. After all, if they really want to drink something else, why don’t they just convince the rest of the voting public to join them.

That answer isn’t suitable for beer, that answer isn’t suitable for restaurants (imagine if McDonald’s vs. Burger King were your only choices), or for musical taste (imagine Lady Gaga vs. Jay-Z as your only choices), or for automobiles (Ford vs. GM). Yet we allow that answer to be suitable for something far more important, our governance.

When it comes to beer, I want freedom. I don’t want to stop people from drinking Bud & Miller, even though I find both of them to be a bit bland and boring. After all, bland and boring works for some people. My sister-in-law rarely eats anything more exciting than spaghetti or grilled cheese, and while I often chide her in a good-natured way, I have no interest in forcing her to eat sushi. With freedom, though, the people who want Bud/Miller can have it, and the people who want wide selections of craft beer can have it. Bud/Miller/Coors make up about 90% of the US Beer market share, but that leaves a lot of room for us on the “long tail”. And when I want a beer that no brewery can make for me, I just fire up the burners, grind some grain, and make it myself. That’s freedom.

Likewise, when it comes to governance, I want freedom. My right to vote for the Bud party or the Miller party doesn’t mean I get anything close to the government I want or find legitimate. Democracy has its advantages over many other forms of government, but it still forces everyone into a lowest-common-denominator one-size-fits-all political system. Those of us who don’t fit that mainstream get crushed right in with the masses. Like beer, I don’t really care what governance *you* want — if you love the Republicans or Democrats, you’re welcome to them. The problem in Democracy is that if 90% of the people in this country want Republicans or Democrats, the other 10% don’t have a chance at getting Libertarians. Your vote only matters if you have popular interests. There is no long tail. Freedom and liberty shouldn’t be subject to a vote, but unfortunately that’s the world we’re living in.

This Is Your Government

As our readers can no doubt see, things have moved to a snail’s pace here. I’m not sure I expect that to change soon [at least for me].

However, I came across this post at TJIC, referencing a post at Coyote Blog, that is an absolute must read.

This is a government that is arbitrary, capricious, and exists not to protect the rights of the governed, but to aggregate power unto itself.

When you ask me why I don’t trust government to do anything, that post is a pretty good example of my answer.

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